A thing of beauty

It is a wonder! The amount of mudslinging the Taj Mahal provokes, it is surely impossible for this matchless mound of white marble to remain spotless. This time, the issue is construction behind the Taj and reclaiming a part of the Yamuna riverbed for the project. It has raised a lot of dirt. Many files and bureaucrats have been flying around and out of offices

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- It is a wonder! The amount of mudslinging the Taj Mahal provokes, it is surely impossible for this matchless mound of white marble to remain spotless. This time, the issue is construction behind the Taj and reclaiming a part of the Yamuna riverbed for the project. It has raised a lot of dirt. Many files and bureaucrats have been flying around and out of offices.

The fault lies in statecraft. If, as a nation, we strongly feel our heritage needs protection, there should be well-defined guidelines. The custodian of our monumental heritage is the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI). It has 3500 monuments to protect, and not much teeth: consequently, much of the venerable past exists in the form of rubble, or is brazenly encroached upon. ASI's helplessness has a reason. According to an ancient and wordy law -- The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaelogical Sites and Remains Act, 1958 -- authorities can control an area of only 300 metres around a site.

But the Taj is special. Anything happening even 3000 metres near it also raises sharp environmental hackles. The Taj's environmental baggage is a heavy one. The debate on how far small-scale industry units and/or the Mathura oil refinery are responsible for blackening the Taj's spotless faade is an unresolved one. The Taj simply evokes passion. The case for heritage protection mixes with unreasonable passion-mongering in the name of the environment, creating potent confusion. This is unfortunate; raw passion cannot be a state's governing principle. It breeds arbitrary management. Indeed, environment protectionism in India is in general guided by passion, and so breeds injustice. The issue of marking out an 'eco-sensitive' zone is an extremely thorny one. But without rationality no heritage can be protected, be it ancient or environmental.

Proper protection also means understanding the spirit of a particular site. Consider the cannibalised Jantar Mantar in Delhi. It is an astronomical instrument. Its architecture demands sunlight. Instead what falls on it is the shadow of a monstrous government building that completely obstructs the sunlight! Moreover, the glorious glass faade of a corporate headquarter reflects a second sun on to it!

If built properly, would Shahjahan have been chary of dedicating a shopping mall to his lady love?

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